Pumping up the procurement playbook

HHS' Bryan Sivak said the new acquisition playbook will give program managers room to experiment with unfamiliar processes.

The Department of Health and Human Services is experimenting with an innovative IT acquisition playbook that assembles templates that contracting officers could use to make quicker and more inventive buys.

HHS Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak said his agency asked a contracting officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to put the playbook together using some of the more innovative procurement methods allowed under the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

"The FAR has room for some interesting things," Sivak said during a panel discussion on innovation at the Management of Change conference in Cambridge, Md. Unfortunately, there is usually "no time for procurement officers to explore those processes," he added.

A CDC contracting officer detailed to the HHS secretary's office who has a history of taking innovative approaches to acquisition is running the playbook program, which has been underway at HHS for the past few weeks, Sivak said.

In an interview with FCW after the panel discussion, he said the program entails creating flow charts for IT acquisitions and recommending innovative pathways for purchases under the FAR. The approach should "make it easier to digest and run procurements," he added, while giving program managers room to experiment with unfamiliar processes.

Even though he has procurement officials "lining up at the door" to try the method, Sivak said he intends to start small by seeing how the first few procurements turn out before opening the program to more projects. The objective is not only to support effective procurement efforts but also to spread the spirit of innovation throughout his organization. Because the procurements would be done under his office, he's acting as a "risk aggregator" for others who might not otherwise try a new method.

He wants to develop the program quickly and not subject it to an overly long developmental period. A draft of the playbook should come out in the next couple of months, he said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Thu, May 22, 2014 Al

Why is the Technology chief talking to a KO and not to the Contracting Chief? Why are procurements being done under his office? I've seen bad results when Program Offices get their own miniature acquisition group repporting to them. The way this article is written, there is some friction being implied between the procurement and tech chiefs and giving the tech chief procurement personnel is a way to avoid the issue . . .

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